Thu, Nov 11, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iraq and US spin Fallujah attack differently

TWO BATTLES Although they are fighting together, different stories are emerging from Iraqi and US military leaders over the situation in the city

AP , BAGHDAD, IRAQ

US soldiers get some sleep in the master bedroom of a house they commandeered during fighting in Fallujah, Iraq yesterday. US and Iraqi forces invaded Fallujah in an attempt to overrun insurgents who control the city. Heavy fighting continued in the city yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

Fighting is fierce, or maybe it's not, in "Operation Phantom Fury," or perhaps "Operation Al-Fajr," which was launched this week to wrest control of Fallujah from Iraqi insurgents -- or maybe foreign terrorists.

Politics and military necessity have produced widely different pictures of the fighting in Fallujah, which began in earnest Monday night when about 6,500 US soldiers and Marines and an estimated 2,000 Iraqi troops stormed into the insurgent sanctuary.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of the failed siege of the city last April, the US command has thrown about three times as many troops into the fight this time, along with an array of sophisticated weaponry to include tanks, artillery, AC-130 gunships, attack helicopters and jets.

The fighting in Fallujah, however, presents a major dilemma for the interim Iraqi government, anxious to win legitimacy among the country's nearly 26 million people and to prepare for elections by the end of January.

On the one hand, the government cannot tolerate a situation where a city of 300,000, which sits astride major land routes to Jordan and Syria, is in the hands of gunmen believed responsible for car bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

However, the Iraqi government does not want to appear as "collaborators" with an American force bombarding a Sunni Arab city at a time when the Sunni minority feels threatened by its longtime Shiite rivals. Some, perhaps many, Iraqi Sunnis consider Fallujah the symbol of Iraqi resistance to foreign domination.

Hence, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite, has gone out of his way to present the fight for Fallujah as a largely Iraqi operation -- with the US playing a supporting role.

During an interview aired yesterday by Al-Arabiya television, Allawi referred repeatedly to operations of Iraqi forces in Fallujah but never mentioned the Americans.

The difference in spin between the Iraqis and the Americans goes beyond national pride.

During a press conference Tuesday, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, commander of land forces in Iraq, predicted "several more days of tough urban fighting" in Fallujah.

"I hear some correspondents talking of fierce fighting," Allawi told Al-Arabiya. "The information we have is not in this direction at all."

Rather than talking about airstrikes and bombardments, Allawi said of the insurgents that "we invited them to lay down their weapons and to accept what has happened."

Before the battle, US officers privately estimated there were up to 5,000 insurgents in Fallujah -- 80 percent of them Iraqis and the rest foreign fighters. Iraqi officials have portrayed the percentage as close to the reverse, with masses of foreign fighters supported by Saddam Hussein loyalists and criminals.

When the operation against Fallujah began, the US military referred to it as "Operation Phantom Fury." The Iraqis called it "Operation Al-Fajr," or Dawn, emblematic of a new day for Fallujah's people.

US commanders and staff officers running the operation said they'd never heard of "Operation Al-Fajr" until the top US commander here, General George Casey, picked up on the term. From then on, "Phantom Fury" vanished.

US officials appear happy for Allawi to spin the fight any way he pleases, as long as it bolsters his image and prevents a public backlash similar to the one that arose during the April siege of Fallujah.

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